LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - British fraud prosecutors have sifted through “vast amounts” of documents in their case against three former Barclays traders alleged to have rigged crucial Libor benchmark interest rates over a two year period, a London court heard on Tuesday.
James Hines, a senior lawyer for Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), told a short hearing at Southwark Crown Court that much of the evidence against Peter Johnson, 59, Jonathan Mathew, 33, and Stylianos Contogoulas, 42, was in email form.
The three men, who are next expected to appear in court towards the end of July, bring to 13 the number facing criminal charges in Britain and the U.S. over allegations that they attempted to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), a central cog in global financial markets against which about $450 trillion of financial products are pegged, from home loans to derivatives.
But they are the first to face charges focusing on the alleged manipulation of the U.S. dollar-denominated Libor rate.
Libor, an average rate at which a panel of banks say they can borrow unsecured funds, is seen as the most important benchmark for short term interest rates and, since the birth of the euro in 2000, was calculated in 10 currencies.
However, since the global fixing scandal erupted after Barclays became the first bank to settle allegations of Libor manipulation with U.S. and UK regulators in 2012, the number of denominations has been whittled down to five under a new U.S. administrator, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE).
Of those five currencies - the Swiss franc, euro, pound sterling, Japanese yen and U.S. dollar - the dollar rate is considered to be the most widely used.
Previous charges filed by Britain’s SFO and the U.S. Department of Justice have focused on the alleged manipulation of yen-denominated Libor rates.
The Libor and a related Euribor inquiry, which stretches from North America to Asia, has to date seen U.S. and European regulators fine 10 banks and brokerages a total of $6 billion. Meanwhile, regulators and prosecutors say they plan to file further civil and criminal charges against individuals.
The SFO, keen to silence critics who have questioned its ability to secure convictions for complex financial crimes, has charged the former Barclays trio with either submitting or agreeing to procure false or misleading dollar Libor rates to boost the trading positions of Barclays staff.
Johnson, Mathew and Athens-based Contogoulas, who are on bail, all face one count of conspiracy to defraud between June 2005 and August 2007.
The SFO has already charged three other men as part of its Libor investigation, including Tom Hayes, a former yen derivatives trader at UBS and Citigroup, who pleaded not guilty in December.
Hayes is due to stand trial in January 2015 on eight charges of conspiring with staff from at least 10 banks and brokerages to manipulate yen Libor rates between 2006 and 2010.
Terry Farr and James Gilmour, two brokers from RP Martin, have been charged and pleaded not guilty to similar fraud-related offences. Their trial has been scheduled for September 2015, in part to allow the SFO time to bring charges against further alleged co-conspirators.